Journal of the American Medical Association special report: CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain—United States, 2016

15 Mar

HELPGUIDE.ORG defines substance abuse and also describes some of the traits of a substance abuser.

Drug abuse, also known as substance abuse, involves the repeated and excessive use of chemical substances to achieve a certain effect. These substances may be “street” or “illicit” drugs, illegal due to their high potential for addiction and abuse. They also may be drugs obtained with a prescription, used for pleasure rather than for medical reasons.
Different drugs have different effects. Some, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, may produce an intense “rush” and initial feelings of boundless energy. Others, such as heroin, benzodiazepines or the prescription oxycontin, may produce excessive feelings of relaxation and calm. What most drugs have in common, though, is overstimulation of the pleasure center of the brain. With time, the brain’s chemistry is actually altered to the point where not having the drug becomes extremely uncomfortable and even painful. This compelling urge to use, addiction, becomes more and more powerful, disrupting work, relationships, and health.

In a 2014 article the National Institute on Drug Abuse took a cautious approach in linking pain killers and drug abuse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse wrote in Abuse of Prescription Pain Medications Risks Heroin Use:

Text Description of Infographic

In 2010 almost 1 in 20 adolescents and adults – 12 million people – used prescription pain medication when it was not prescribed for them or only for the feeling it caused.  While many believe these drugs are not dangerous because they can be prescribed by a doctor, abuse often leads to dependence.  And eventually, for some, pain medication abuse leads to heroin.

Top Figure: 1 in 15 people who take non medical prescription pain relievers will try heroin within 10 years.

Left  Graph: Number of people who abused or were dependent on pain medications and percentage of them that use heroin.  Pie charts show in 2004 1.4 million people abused or were dependent on pain medications and 5% used heroin. In 2010, 1.9 million people abused or were dependent on pain medications and 14% used heroin.

Right Top Graph:  Heroin users are 3 times as likely to be dependent.  14% of non medical prescription pain reliever users are dependent. Yet, 54% of heroin users are dependent.

Right Bottom Graph:  Heroin emergency room admissions are increasing.  In 2005 there were less than 200,000 emergency room visits related to heroin. By 2011 this number had increased to almost 260,000….

The CDC issued new recommendations regarding prescribing pain medication.

Kimberly Leonard of U.S. News wrote in Getting a Painkiller from a Doctor Is About to Get Harder:

Government health officials on Tuesday provided strategies for primary care doctors who treat patients suffering from chronic pain. Among the recommendations: to use urine drug testing before prescribing highly addictive painkillers like oxycontin, codeine and morphine.

The guidance, put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is part of the government’s response to the epidemic of people dying from opioid overdoses, which include prescription painkillers but also the drug’s cheaper alternative, heroin. Data from the CDC show that in 2014 these deaths surpassed car accidents as the No. 1 cause of injury-related death.

For the most part, the CDC recommends limiting opioid prescriptions to people who have cancer, are receiving end-of-life or palliative care, or are suffering with serious illnesses. Primary care doctors have been in part responsible for the surge in addiction: Since 1999, the prescribing and sales of opioids has quadrupled, and primary care doctors account for nearly half of these prescriptions….                                                                                                 


Special Communication | March 15, 2016

CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain—United States, 2016 FREE ONLINE FIRST

Deborah Dowell, MD, MPH1; Tamara M. Haegerich, PhD1; Roger Chou, MD1

[+] Author Affiliations

JAMA. Published online March 15, 2016. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.1464

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Supplemental Content




Importance  Primary care clinicians find managing chronic pain challenging. Evidence of long-term efficacy of opioids for chronic pain is limited. Opioid use is associated with serious risks, including opioid use disorder and overdose.

Objective  To provide recommendations about opioid prescribing for primary care clinicians treating adult patients with chronic pain outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care.

Process  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated a 2014 systematic review on effectiveness and risks of opioids and conducted a supplemental review on benefits and harms, values and preferences, and costs. CDC used the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) framework to assess evidence type and determine the recommendation category.

Evidence Synthesis  Evidence consisted of observational studies or randomized clinical trials with notable limitations, characterized as low quality using GRADE methodology. Meta-analysis was not attempted due to the limited number of studies, variability in study designs and clinical heterogeneity, and methodological shortcomings of studies. No study evaluated long-term (≥1 year) benefit of opioids for chronic pain. Opioids were associated with increased risks, including opioid use disorder, overdose, and death, with dose-dependent effects.

Recommendations  There are 12 recommendations. Of primary importance, nonopioid therapy is preferred for treatment of chronic pain. Opioids should be used only when benefits for pain and function are expected to outweigh risks. Before starting opioids, clinicians should establish treatment goals with patients and consider how opioids will be discontinued if benefits do not outweigh risks. When opioids are used, clinicians should prescribe the lowest effective dosage, carefully reassess benefits and risks when considering increasing dosage to 50 morphine milligram equivalents or more per day, and avoid concurrent opioids and benzodiazepines whenever possible. Clinicians should evaluate benefits and harms of continued opioid therapy with patients every 3 months or more frequently and review prescription drug monitoring program data, when available, for high-risk combinations or dosages. For patients with opioid use disorder, clinicians should offer or arrange evidence-based treatment, such as medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine or methadone.

Conclusions and Relevance  The guideline is intended to improve communication about benefits and risks of opioids for chronic pain, improve safety and effectiveness of pain treatment, and reduce risks associated with long-term opioid therapy.

Here is the recommendation for patients from LeShaundra Cordier Scott, MPH, CHES; Sarah Lewis, MPH, CHES:


A JAMA article was published online on March 15, 2016, describing a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opioid prescribing guideline for chronic pain. The guideline provides recommendations based on available science for safer, more effective treatment of chronic pain outside of active cancer, palliative care, and end-of-life care.

The recommendations ask health care practitioners to

  • Use nonopioid medications and other therapies such as physical therapy instead of or in combination with opioids.
  • Prescribe the lowest effective dosage of opioids to reduce risks of opioid use disorder and overdose.
  • Discuss potential benefits and harms of opioids with patients.
  • Assess improvements in pain and function regularly.
  • Use tools such as urine drug tests and prescription drug monitoring programs to inform themselves about patients’ other medications that increase risk.
  • Monitor patients for signs of whether opioid use disorder might be developing and arrange treatment if needed




If you have chronic pain, be sure to

  • Consider ways to manage your pain that do not include opioids, such as physical therapy, exercise, nonopioid medications, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Make the most informed decision with your doctor.
  • Never take opioids in greater amounts or more often than prescribed.
  • Avoid taking opioids with alcohol and other substances or medications you have not discussed with your doctor.

If you or someone close to you has an addiction to pain medication, talk to your doctor or contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s treatment help line at (800) 662-HELP.

For More Information

To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA’s website at Spanish translations are available in the supplemental content tab.


The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.

Published Online: March 15, 2016. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.3224.

Here is the press release from the American Medical Association:

March 15, 2016

AMA Responds to CDC Guidelines on Opioids

For immediate release:
March 15, 2016

CHICAGO – In response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines issued today, the American Medical Association (AMA) noted its shared goal of reducing harm from opioid abuse and seeking solutions to end this public health epidemic and applauds the agency for making the issue a high priority. As with any guideline development of this magnitude, we appreciated the opportunity to add the voice of patients and physicians.

“While we are largely supportive of the guidelines, we remain concerned about the evidence base informing some of the recommendations, conflicts with existing state laws and product labeling, and possible unintended consequences associated with implementation, which includes access and insurance coverage limitations for non-pharmacologic treatments, especially comprehensive care, and the potential effects of strict dosage and duration limits on patient care,” said Patrice A. Harris, MD, the AMA board chair-elect and chair of the AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse.

“We know this is a difficult issue that doesn’t have easy solutions and if these guidelines help reduce the deaths resulting from opioids, they will prove to be valuable. If they produce unintended consequences, we will need to mitigate them. They are not the final word. More needs to be done, and we plan to continue working at the state and federal level to engage policy makers to take steps that will help end this epidemic.”


Media Contact:
Jack Deutsch
AMA Media & Editorial

If you or a member of your family is prescribed pain medication, the course of treatment should follow CDC recommendations.

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